Jenni Roditi

Publish Date: 5 July 2016

Jenni singers[1]

I originally trained in piano and composition … Everything I do pours into my teaching and now, for the first time, into my conducting too …

“I conduct two choirs; a professional choir TIC – The Improvisers Choir and a community choir TOC – The Open Choir. The project is TIC TOC SING. TIC singers come from a wide variety of genres. We have pop singers with opera singers, avant-garde with jazz, folk and experimental so we’ve got a bend-not-blend aesthetic. Some are composers, while others are working in film and are in musical theatre. So the idea was to have a completely mixed genre, mixed sound choir.

The choirs kind of leapt out of my Vocal Tai Chi workshops that I’ve been running for a long time where there’s a lot of improvising behind closed doors. Both choirs work with improvisation. I conduct using a system of signals that form the music in the moment. This gives a lot of freedom to the individual singer to come up with their own ideas. I’m taking on the meta-structure … which I mean the overall shape of the piece. So I can control the flow of the music by encouraging one element to grow and another to fade for example. I can start sections and stop sections and that means knowing what to encourage and when to change. Those are really compositional decisions – but not made with any time to reflect, as one does sitting at a desk, but in the moment with no looking back. So whatever is happening my task is the make it work… as Miles Davis said -‘if you play a wrong note – play it again’.  It is a co-creative process because I am responding to what the choir members are creating themselves. It’s a beautifully porous situation.

The hand signals are a simple set of traffic lights with various semaphore gestures that indicate what kind of musical clay to work with. They say whether you copy others, or if you step forward to solo, or if you are creating a repeating pattern, or if you are harmonising something that’s there, or giving an undercurrent of rhythm, or if you are suggesting harmony with sustained notes … I have different signals for each of these simple building blocks. Pitch is already there in the room, once someone sings a note, then you create a mode around that note. Sometimes there may be two modes going on, I’m interested in the bitonality, so can be perfect, sometimes it may be more jazzy, sometimes it may be more complex or dissonant in colours and tones. There isn’t really harmonic progression in the old sense, it’s more like the Balinese – Javanese tradition of repetition and concentration on timbre and colour and working with atmospheres.

My own improvised singing is like a vocal form of Tai Chi… I call it Moving Voice Between Heaven and Earth. It’s a synthesis of tai chi, breath practice, centring and grounding with the present moment sounding and improvising voice, the creative voice. It draws on different practices I’ve studied including therapeutic work, Indian ragas and Extended Vocal Technique. I’m also influenced by indigenous sounds; earth bound voice traditions, Inuit, Bulgarian vocal tradition and so on.

I originally trained in piano and composition at Guildhall and have been writing for many different instrumental groupings including three operas, choral work, and piano music, such as my forty-minute piano duo, ‘Between the Octaves’, exploring essential elements of piano music in seven movements: initiate, spatial, line, layer, rotate, pronounce and pulsate. So, TIC TOC SING is drawing on my work in contemporary music composition all the time. Everything I do pours into my teaching and now, for the first time, into my conducting too and the way that I embody my work and (hopefully) inspire students to practice with me.

After the first TOC concert, someone said it was looking at a living organism, or like being in the presence of a sort of animal that was expressing itself giving the sense of an untamed energy. Another audience member said she had expected it to all sound samey but there was a lot of variety and a real sense of journey for her. There had been nerves to start with but afterwards there was a vibrant and celebratory atmosphere!” (Jenni Roditi was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence Lola Perrin)


On Friday 10th June at the Crouch End Festival opening night at the Grade 2 listed Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, Jenni Roditi will be conducting two concerts in one. First, the community choir TOC – The Open Choir – will perform in the Crush Hall, a marble art deco with wonderful resonant acoustic. Then the audience will process downstairs to the Supper Room where the professional choir TIC – The Improvisers Choir – will perform.
June 10th 7.30pm Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre Tickets £3.30 in advance and £5 on the door for TIC. TOC is free entry June 16th 7 pm – 9 pm Introduction to Vocal Tai Chi at the Loft Booking via £6 on the door. June 18th 11 am – 4 pm. TIC TIC SING

Public workshop in Hornsey Town Hall Supper Room with members of both choirs present.
Connect with Jenni Roditi http://www.vocaltaichi.com
Jenni Roditi FRSA GGSM, MMus VMTR is an associate of the Institute of Composing and board director of BASCA. She is a composer, vocalist, pianist and conductor of two improvisation choirs. She founded Vocal Tai Chi in 2012. She is currently working on refinements of her piece ‘Between the Octaves’ for piano duo and is looking for a venue and open minded players to present the premiere of this work….